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Which is better for Internet radio, a dedicated receiver or a Netbook?

Reading Jennifer Waits’ excellent history of Internet radio, I’m pondering the same question everyone else is these days: How am I going to listen to it? Just go to Amazon.com and you can choose from an amazing assortment of streaming audio receivers. But before we look at some of them, I’ve got an open ended question for Radio Survivor readers. Why should I buy one of these neat little gadgets when I’ve got a Netbook?

My little HP Netbook sits next to my big screen computer and it’s hooked up to my DSL router via an Ethernet line. I’ve got last.fm, Pandora, live365.com, NPR, and a bunch of favorite local FM stations bookmarked on my Firefox browser. I’ve got a nice set of speakers running out of the computer. If I wanted to, I could park the Netbook and speakers just about anywhere in my house and control the system remotely via Bluetooth. It’s all very portable. The setup sounds great. So why do I need something else?

One answer is obvious, if not the most logical. I may not “need” something else, but my unquenchable lust for the latest cool new gizmo must be continuously satisfied. And man, are there a lot of cool gizmo receivers out there.

Eight functions in one

Let’s see, coming soon is the Sanyo R227 WiFi Internet Radio (available for pre-order at $175.00). You can hook it up via WiFi or an Ethernet port and search for Internet stations to your heart’s delight. It’s got an FM receiver too, plus a clock and alarm function.

Then there’s the Logitech Squeezebox ($149.47), a cute, clock radio sized application with its own Squeezebox Network of stations and services. The device can access Sirius XM radio. You can plug in your iPod, or link to the tunes in your PC or Mac. Somewhat parallel in appearance is the Grace Digital Wireless Internet Radio ($154.99), which offers a similar array of functions.

Next we’ve got the Aluratek AIRMM01 Internet Radio Alarm Clock with built-in WiFi ($99.99). It’s cute and sleek, and you can use it to wake up to Internet radio, FM, or whatever.

Some devices dedicate themselves to particular services. The Livio Internet Radio Featuring Pandora ($188.67) bills itself as “The first Internet Radio to feature [Pandora’s] Thumb-up and Thumb-down controls right in the front of the unit,” so you can tell Pandora not to play that dumb tune ever again. Then there’s the Philips NP2500/37 WiFi Internet Radio Network Music Player with Rhapsody, which, as the title suggests, is contoured to the Rhapsody music service.

And most intriguingly, the Muzee USB Internet Radio ($32.88) guides you to a wide variety of online sources and lets you record what you hear in WMA format.

Pros and cons

There are a lot of appealing reasons to buy these Internet radio devices (I’m talking about everything except the Muzee, which is basically a thumbnail drive). First of all, unlike my Netbook, these receivers actually look like radios and so are more attractive sitting around non-office areas of the house. They’re also simpler and more ergonomically fitted for their task. And they offer multiple radio functions, including satellite and FM reception.

Other the other hand, my Netbook can pretty much do all that stuff. It can pick up FM stations, Sirius XM, copy broadcasts, access Pandora, Rhapsody, and tap into dozens of other audio services. I can turn it into an alarm clock, and/or make it tell the time prominently on the front screen. Most significantly, my Netbook is more likely to remain upgradable to the latest streaming innovation, as opposed to some of these dedicated receivers. And if you’re into interfacing Pandora or last.fm or whatever with Facebook and Twitter, a Netbook is probably the better way to go.

Then again, Netbooks cost more than most of these radios. You could go the Verizon route and buy one with a broadband service contract for $199. But don’t forget that, as an “advanced device,” that deal now comes with a $350 early termination fee if you opt for something else later.

But I’d really like to hear what Radio Survivor readers have to say about this. Are these dedicated Internet receivers really all that sustainable? Or is the Netbook option just too geeky for John and Jane Q. Consumer? Have you found a streaming radio device or solution that you think will keep you satisfied over the long run? Or is your computer keeping you happy?

And we haven’t even started to talk about mobile phones . . .


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3 Responses to Which is better for Internet radio, a dedicated receiver or a Netbook?

  1. Paul Riismandel January 7, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    I’ve been pondering this question my self for quite some time… in fact, from before there were netbooks. A friend of mine was an early adopter of the first Squeezebox, circa 2001, which played MP3s from your network on your stereo. I don’t think that first one even played internet radio. Back then I coveted it, but never could motivate to buy one.

    Then every year better models of Squeezeboxes, Rokus and others would come out and I’d sit on the fence.

    So now, here in 2010, I’m still on the fence, but I do have a netbook. I have plugged it in to my main stereo a couple of times, mostly for MP3s, but also for streaming radio. I’ve also used my iPhone for that. But not on a regular basis.

    My main problem with netbooks and notebooks is that their sound quality is pretty bad, and I’m kind of a low-level audiophile. I do have a little USB soundcard that improves the sound somewhat. For most streaming stations it’s less of a concern, but a bigger deal for my higher quality digital files.

    For the moment I guess I’ll be sticking with the netbook by default. I do like the idea of a small component that stays integrated and is therefore neater than having to keep a netbook open. But I’m not sure if I’m ready to bite on an internet radio device just yet.

  2. Battar March 7, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Because I can listen to the radio when the computer is not switched on, or is being used by someone else.

  3. Avi Tar March 18, 2010 at 6:33 am #

    “And most intriguingly, the Muzee USB Internet Radio ($32.88) guides you to a wide variety of online sources and let’s you record what you hear in WMA format.”

    There are already software programs that do that and do it better. Try Applian Replay Media Catcher.

    Also, it’s spelled “lets”, not “let’s”. No apostrophe there. “let’s” means “let us” as in “let’s ponder our own existence”

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